The lack of good roles in films for actresses over forty has been an issue almost since cinema began. Through the years, there have always been a few female stars; Katherine Hepburn immediately comes to mind as an actress who could still get a good leading role in an excellent film. For the most part though, women over forty and certainly over fifty are relegated to supporting roles as mothers, grandmothers or kooky neighbors. In contrast men in their forties and fifties are still cast as action heroes and romantic leads, often alongside women fifteen to twenty five years their junior.
Much has also been written about the lack of films made for middle-aged moviegoers wanting to see an occasional portrayal of their life experiences. Boasting the star power of Academy Award winners Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates as well as three-time nominee Joan Allen, Bonneville had the opportunity to be the kind of film that could really strike a chord with middle-aged viewers. Instead, the film putters along with a series of worn out plots and clichés, wasting the talents of three great actors.
Arvilla (Lange) has just lost her beloved husband of twenty years after he died on one of their trips to Borneo. Arvilla wants to honor her late husband's wishes and spread his ashes, but her bitchy stepdaughter Francine (Christine Baranski) declares she will sell Arvilla's home out from under her if she doesn't return what's left of "daddy" back to her in Santa Barbara. Arvilla decides that she and her two fellow Mormon friends, the sassmouthed Margene (Bates) and the prissy Carol (Allen), who keeps a tight rein on her sense of morality--"Oh my heck, I think I just drank vodka," or "Coffee? What kind of a Mormon are you?"--will take a road trip from their home in Iowa out to Santa Barbara in Joe's newly refurbished 1966 Bonneville convertible.
The biggest pitfall for Bonneville is first-time screenwriter Daniel D. Davis' somewhat implausible script. While the road trip offers a few nice moments of these middle-aged women loosening up from previously tightly held conventions (especially Carol) and trying coffee, taking a sip of vodka and trying a bit of gambling at a casino, Davis takes things into unrealistic territory. When a truck driver named Emmett (Tom Skerritt) oogles the ladies at 60 m.p.h on the highway, that seems plausible. But when he runs into them a few days later at a gas station, agrees to meet them for dinner in Las Vegas, and shows up in a new suit, believability is waning.